My dad is a notorious teaser.  In my younger days, he would spin yarns to wrap around my siblings and I, and would never back down when we insisted that he was lying.  It seemed like he simply derived great pleasure out of tormenting his children, seeing us squirm uncomfortably as we tried to reconcile our my-dad-is-a-superhero instincts with our my-dad-is-a-liar reality.

"See this scar?" he'd say, pointing to a thick strip of shiny pink on his chest.  "That's from when I was out in the woods with my dad and I got attacked by a werewolf.  I used to have an 'outie' belly button, too, but the werewolf bit it off."

"Nu-uh, Dad!  Quit teasing!"

"I'm McGyver," he'd insist every week as my family gathered around the TV.  "It's based on my life.  Back before I met your mom I was a secret agent."

"Nu-uh!  You were not!  Mom, make Dad stop teasing!"

No matter how much we protested, no matter how loudly we groaned, he never changed his stories.  He got such a kick out of us becoming frustrated or angry with him.  When we would admonish him for lying, his response was always the same.  "I'm bigger than you, I'm stronger than you, and goshdarn it, I'm better-looking than you, too."

When I was a teenager, I loathed my father for being a self-described Jack-Mormon.  I was trying so hard to believe in the church myself, and I was certain he was feeding me doubts just to torment me.

One morning before church, he pulled out a little laminated card from his scripture case and showed it to me.  It was a chart documenting all the discrepencies between his pre-1981 edition of the Book of Mormon and my own set.  He had made it himself.

Another time he tried to explain the Adam-God doctrine to me.  "Brigham Young taught it," he told me.


"He did," he insisted.  "Brigham Young taught that Adam was God, but the church doesn't teach it anymore.  Now they say that he never taught that at all."

"Yeah, sure Dad, and you're McGyver."

For many years beyond teenagerhood, when I was still trying so hard to become someone I wasn't, I carried resentment for my dad.  All those times I read the Book of Mormon and felt nothing, all those times I prayed and felt nothing, all those times I listened to other people gush about how they could "feel the spirit" in the room with us and I felt nothing, a part of me blamed Dad for planting those seeds of doubt.  If he wasn't so stubborn, if he would just be a good card-carrying priesthood holder like he was supposed to be, then I would surely have a testimony!  I would surely stop feeling so worthless and guilty and evil for not having enough faith.

I would see the relationships my friends had with their fathers, and compared to my own it seemed like something straight out of Full House.  Their dads were so protective of them, their dads doted on them, their dads were like knights in shining armor who wanting nothing more than to pamper their little princesses.

My dad, on the other hand, was not what I would call doting.  He would never dream of letting me win if we played a game together.  He didn't believe in letting me have my own way just because I'd pout at him.  He'd rarely ask me questions about my feelings, and opted instead to spend dinnertimes handing out 'quizzes', drilling me with math and physics and logic questions until I refused to play anymore.

For years I harbored the thought that my dad didn't really care about me.  It seemed so unfair to me that he would purposely feed me 'anti-Mormon' thoughts when I was trying so hard to develop a testimony.  I wanted to believe that he was just falling back on his habits of feeding me little lies until I snapped and got angry.  I wanted to believe that he was just argumentative by nature, and wanted to get me riled up so he could have someone to fight with.

When I was young, it simply seemed like he just enjoyed seeing his children suffer.  Looking back now, I know that what he was really doing was teaching us to think for ourselves, to look at things objectively, to not just accept anything one-sided without examining the other possibilities.  He was teaching me to be skeptical and critical and to make informed decisions.  He was teaching me to use my brain.

Maybe not during the "I was attacked by a werewolf" game.  That one was just mean.

My dad and I have never really sat down and talked about my leaving the church.  He's made a couple of comments, asked a couple of questions ("So what do you do on Sundays now?"), but hasn't ever questioned my motives for leaving.  So I can't really say for sure that I think he's proud of me for apostasizing.

But I do think that he would be proud of me for not accepting the church at face value.  I'd like to think he's proud of me for taking the time to look at both sides of the church, and deciding for myself whether or not I think it's true.  If I had stayed in the church, I think he'd feel better knowing that I was doing so because I'd investigated it thoroughly and decided that I did in fact believe in it.

My dad taught me that what I think and how I feel matters more than how everyone else is telling me to think and feel.  He taught me that my doubts, my fears, and my insecurities matter, and that they shouldn't just be brushed under the rug.  In a church that commands uniformity of thoughts, morals, and beliefs, he taught me that my own opinions were just as valuable as anything an "inspired leader" told me.

And I'll take that over him letting me win a game of Crazy 8s any day.


Ryan said...

This makes me love you that much more. It also makes me even more excited to meet your father.

Aurora said...

Your dad is awesome.